A stunning sunrise ushered in this dew-drenched, chilly dawn, which was preceded at 12:14 a.m. by the new moon and total solar eclipse, although the latter obviously was not visible here.
As we walked, Koko kept her nose pressed to the wet grass and I kept my eye on the sky, where towering piles of clouds in both the northeast and southwest were infused with gold and pink by the sun’s slow emergence, giving them the appearance of something far more solid, like craggy floating mountains, their peaks and crevices defined by light.
I love to witness this continual rebirthing, to see it all start fresh again, and new. It feels to me like an ongoing reiteration of hope.
I had a similar reaction to the news, discussed yesterday afternoon on KKCR and reported in today’s Garden Island, that a group called Stop-DAT — the letters stand for Disrespectful Air Tourism — has formed to once again try and bring some order into the noisy chaos of Kauai’s skies.
The din caused by Kauai’s thriving air tourism industry is nothing new. Residents began complaining at least two decades ago, when little Kauai gained the dubious distinction of having more sightseeing flights than any other island, a title it most likely still holds.
Then, the troublemakers were helicopters that flew any kine, with nary a thought to those who lived below. Now they’ve been joined by fixed-wing airplanes, biplanes and ultralights, all seeking a piece of the lucrative market.
At the crux of the issue, then and now, is the state’s unwillingness to regulate the air tourism industry and the industry’s refusal to regulate itself. The public, with no place to complain and no agency responding when they do, ends up getting screwed.
Back in the 1990s, when the issue became very heated and numerous meetings were held around the state, the FAA did come up with a rule —SFAR-71 — that prohibits tour aircraft from flying any lower than 1,500 feet above any person, private property or natural feature in the state.
Meanwhile, “Fly Neighborly” plans were drafted that specified the routes tour aircraft should take to minimize their impact on residents. But those flight paths were voluntarily and the FAA didn’t enforce SFAR-71, so it wasn’t long before the industry simply blew them both off.
Which brings us to the current free-for-all, with helicopters and other aircraft flying from dawn to dusk, mauka to makai, unless the weather is so cloudy and rainy that they can’t fly at all. They cruise over beaches and mountains, towns and rural neighborhoods, into Kalalau Valley and through Waimea Canyon. And if a tourist wants a photo op or better view, they’ll fly lower, loop around, double back.
And all the while the air tour industry is raking in the dough at the expense of those living in the prettiest places, or enroute to them, who must endure the constant drone of one aircraft after another flying overhead.
Tired of two decades of broken promises, a group of concerned residents met recently with the tour industry to see if they could work things out. They couldn’t. They turned to the mayor’s office, which stepped in “but got nowhere,” said Hanalei resident Carl Imperato, speaking on the radio yesterday.
“Apparently the industry doesn’t care enough to resolve the problem,” he said, noting astutely: “It’s obvious we’ll get no help with this from government.”
So they formed Stop-DAT and now plan “to go after the industry where it counts: in the pocketbook,” Imperato said. The group’s first move is an informational picketing at the airport intersection between 3 and 5 p.m. on Monday.
They’re not trying to shut down the industry, Imperato said, “but there’s really no reason why air tourism has to be done disrespectfully.”
The industry, predictably, responded in exactly the same way it has for the past 20 years: blaming a few rogue operators for the problem and a few residents for the outcry, forming an association and proposing a hotline for complaints.
Here’s the spiel from Curt Lofstedt, owner of Island Helicopters Kauai, as reported in the Garden Island:
“If they called us direct and said someone flew over their place, we’d do something about it,” Lofstedt said. “But if we don’t get direct calls, there’s nothing we can really do.”
He said some new fixed wing companies sometimes stray from the fly neighborly agreements. The newly formed association wants them to join.
“We don’t fly over Hanalei Bay or the other areas they’re complaining about except in case of bad weather,” Lofstedt said. “It’s a vocal minority pushing this. We’re doing what we can.”
Yawn. How many times are they going to trot out this same tired non-response? We’ve had hotlines in the past, and the complaints went nowhere. And why do they keep lying about where they’re flying, as if we don’t see them with our own eyes, hear them with our own ears?
Stop-DAT is pushing for no flights on Sundays and holidays, and to have helicopters fly one-mile offshore. They’re radical proposals, but as even the county’s Director of Economic Development, Beth Tokioka, noted: “Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get really productive dialogue.”
The air tourism industry has long been a scourge, in my view. It’s fuel-guzzling, unsafe, incredibly intrusive, harmful to wildlife and the worst expression of lazy, lookey-lou tourism. I’m heartened to see that a new group has formed to again take it on. With the support of those who appreciate peace and quiet, perhaps this arrogant industry can finally be reigned in.